MRS. TED BLISS
An extremely vexing if entertaining novel about an 80-year-old Jewish widow, by the late master of obsessive dark humor (Van Gogh's Room at Aries, 1993, etc.). Dorothy Bliss is a recent widow who moved with her husband to Miami after he retired as a butcher 20 years ago. Through the course of the story Elkin reveals in great detail every nuance of the rather dull life of Mrs. Bliss, a devoted homemaker who never dared to "color outside the lines." We learn of her two living children and numerous grandchildren and other minor relatives--Mrs. Bliss keeps careful records of how much money she gives to each of them on every holiday, making sure that no one gets more than any of the others. We hear of the trauma of her oldest son's death from cancer at an early age. And we learn all about her fastidious cleaning habits. She leads such an ordinary, predictable life that her drug-smuggling South American neighbors conspire to use her and her dead husband's car as a front for their operation. But the amusing drug-running bit is only a ruse to tease you into thinking there's a plot. In fact, there's isn't so much a plot as an accumulation of detail about Mrs. Bliss. At first the repetitive, seemingly trivial anecdotes are grating, but Elkin's long poetic sentences about seemingly mundane minutiae subtly compound, and his central character gradually takes on a profound weight. By the end, when she's alone in her condo waiting for the killer hurricane that is bearing down on Miami, Mrs. Ted Bliss seems like a mythic character, the scene the Gutterdemmerung of the Jewish-American Mother. A fiendish and, by end, thoroughly engrossing life study.